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Monday, 16 September 2019 edition

SingCham Weekly: Sumatra shuts schools due to forest fires

Monday, 9 September 2019

Corporate tax cut to boost investment

Indonesia plans to cut corporate taxes to boost domestic investment. The country’s tax office has proposed reducing the income tax rate to 17% for five years for publicly listed companies that have floated 40% of their shares on the Indonesia Stock Exchange. Such companies currently pay 20% income tax, which is already lower than the normal rate of 25%. The government will also cut the corporate tax rate for non-listed companies to 22% in 2021 and to 20% in 2023. Foreign or domestic institutions that own at least 25% of the shares in a local company will be exempt from paying income tax on dividends. Those with ownership of less than the benchmark can still enjoy a similar benefit if they reinvest their dividends in local businesses.

VAT for online e-commerce business

The government would also require online e-commerce businesses, both foreign and domestic, to collect value-added tax for every transaction conducted by Indonesians on their platforms. Foreign e-commerce platforms will also be required to pay income tax on all revenue generated in Indonesia. This would mean subscriptions to video and music streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify, or e-commerce giants, such as Alibaba and Amazon, would also have to start collecting VAT from Indonesians, or risk losing the right to do business here. To do so, foreign platforms may need to open representatives offices in Indonesia.

Batik Air launches new service from Bali to Labuan Bajo

Batik Air, a subsidiary of low-cost carrier Lion Air, has begun flight operations on a new route connecting the holiday destinations of Bali and Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). the route was opened based on the success of previously introduced services from Labuan Bajo to Jakarta and to Surabaya, East Java. Located in the eastern part of Indonesia, Labuan Bajo serves as the entry point to the Komodo National Park, the only place in the world where people can see the endangered Komodo dragon in its natural habitat. In May, US coffee giant Starbucks opened its first store in the region.

Jakarta-Cikampek elevated toll-road to open this Christmas

Toll-road construction company Jasamarga Jalanlayang Cikampek (JJC) executive director Djoko Dwijono is targeting for the Jakarta-Cikampek II elevated toll road to start operating at the end of the year to accommodate the traffic flow during the Christmas and New Year holidays. At the end of last month, the construction of the Jakarta-Cikampek II toll road had reached 95% completion. The construction of the toll road has been causing heavy congestion in the area for months.

Boba Festival coming to Jakarta in late September

Taking place in the mall’s premium parking area, the festival is to feature more than 25 boba (also known as bubble) brands that are currently trending in the capital. Among the brands that are to take part in the event are Chatime, In Tea, Tiger Sugar, Kokumi, Koi Thé, Xing Fu Tang, Fat Straw and Gulu Gulu, to name a few. The festival is to also present Daboba, one of the popular brands of bubble tea in Malaysia. Some of the brands are famous for their brown sugar menus, while others offer a mixture of sweet and salty flavours with cheese foam on their beverages.

Singapore could be Asia’s next halal destination

Halal tourism is predicted to generate US$200m by 2020. Given such potential, three countries in Southeast Asia, namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, have been actively promoting halal tourism. Tourism industry practitioner and observer Tania Gromenko echoed Panca’s observations. She said Singapore’s halal tourism industry was developing and that the government had requested hotels to provide prayer facilities, halal-certified restaurants and more. Most of the travellers come from China and Indonesia, with Indonesia ranking second after China as the largest contributor of tourists. As such, Tania said, it was not a surprise to see the country trying to accommodate Muslim travellers.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Air quality may enter ‘unhealthy’ range amid increase in Indonesia hotspots

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Singapore may enter the unhealthy range if the haze situation in Indonesia’s Sumatra persists or worsens, said the National Environment Agency (NEA). As of Tuesday, the 24-hour PSI was in the moderate range of between 85 and 96. A PSI reading of between 101 and 200 falls in the unhealthy range. The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration readings were in the normal range at 8 pm. “Overall, the PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the high end of the Moderate range,” said NEA in a media advisory. “Depending on wind conditions, the PSI may enter the unhealthy range if the haze situation in Sumatra persists or worsens.” A total of 537 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Tuesday, a sharp increase from the 380 reported on Monday.

Indonesia denies responsibility for haze affecting Malaysia

Satellite images prove that the haze that affected Malaysia late last week did not originate from Indonesia, the national weather bureau said. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the satellite images also showed an increase in the number of active fires in the region, mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. “Based on images from the Himawari-8 satellite and a Geohotspot analysis by the BMKG, smoke on the Malaysian Peninsula on Sept. 5-7 came from local fires,” agency head Dwikorita Karnawati said in Jakarta. Images from the Himawari-8 and Sentinel satellites also showed an increase in the number of fires in early September did not occur in Indonesia, but on the Malaysian Peninsula and in Vietnam, and that this had been responsible for the recent haze. Dwikorita said strong winds prevented smoke from Indonesia reaching Malaysia.

Housing grant with higher income ceiling, no restriction on flat type and location

A new housing grant with a higher wage ceiling will kick in to streamline two existing grants. The Enhanced Central Provident Fund (CPF) Housing Grant, announced by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, will also remove restrictions on the type and location of flats being bought. The grant will replace the current Additional and Special CPF Housing Grants, as part of moves to make public housing more affordable. Under the new grant — which is for households with incomes of up to S$9,000 — first-time flat buyers, be they families or singles under the Joint Singles Scheme, could receive subsidies of between S$5,000 and S$80,000. Currently, the Special CPF Housing Grant, which disburses subsidies of up to S$40,000, is for first-time buyers with household incomes of up to S$8,500 who wish to buy four-room or smaller new flats in non-mature estates.

More local companies migrate to cloud computing to boost business efficiency

Cloud computing, the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, is becoming more popular among business players in the country, from the most profitable bank in the country to retail start-ups. The technology not only provides large storage capacity but also speeds up data processing, thereby improving cost-efficiency.

Apple TV+ to launch in Singapore at S$6.98 a month

pple on Tuesday (Sep 10) announced details for its streaming TV service priced at S$6.98 a month, undercutting Disney and Netflix. The long-awaited Apple TV+ streaming television service will be available in more than 100 countries, including Singapore, starting in November. The service will be available on the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch, Mac and other platforms, including online at https://tv.apple.com/sg, for S$6.98 per month with a seven-day free trial.

Thailand’s August foreign tourist arrivals up 5.6%

The number of foreign tourists arriving in Thailand rose 5.59% in August from a year earlier, with Chinese visitor numbers rebounding strongly. The number of Chinese tourists, Thailand’s biggest source of visitors, jumped 15.6% in August from a year earlier to 1m, after increasing 5.81% in July following five months of declines. Tourism is a major driver of Thai growth, with foreign tourist receipts accounting for about 12% of gross domestic product.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Grab to merge Indonesian payment firms to overtake Gojek

SoftBank-backed ride hailer Grab is in talks to merge OVO, Indonesian digital payments firm in which it owns shares, with an Ant Financial-backed local peer to build heft and power ahead of archrival Gojek, people familiar with the matter said. A deal would see Singapore-based Grab buy a majority interest in Ant-backed DANA from Indonesian media conglomerate Elang Mahkota Teknologi (Emtek) and merge it with OVO, they said. It could help OVO-DANA dominate Gojek in Indonesia’s multi-billion dollar online payments market. OVO and Gojek have been vying for the top spot in payments since 2018, with DANA not far behind.

Sumatra shuts schools due to forest fires

Authorities shut most schools in parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra island to protect children from a thick, noxious haze as deliberately set fires burned through peatland forests, officials said. Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency said more than 3,600 fires have been detected on Sumatra and Borneo islands by weather satellites, leading to very poor air quality in six provinces with a combined population of more than 23m. Nearly every year, Indonesian forest fires spread health-damaging haze across the country and into neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. Authorities have deployed more than 9,000 people to fight the fires, which have razed more than 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of land in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

Illegal foreign delivery riders for food delivery

Food delivery companies – GrabFood, Deliveroo and FoodPanda – have measures in place to ensure that foreigners do not work illegally as their delivery riders. This follows the issue of foreigners working illegally as food delivery riders which was highlighted by Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC, Lee Bee Wah in Parliament. She said her residents “told (her) quite often that they see Malaysia-registered motorcycles delivering food”. In response, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that two Malaysians were arrested in April for working as self-employed delivery riders. They were in Singapore on social visit passes (SVP). It is illegal for foreigners to work as self-employed riders for food delivery companies, he told the house.

Charles Schwab to close Singapore office

Discount brokerage company Charles Schwab is cutting about 600 jobs after an internal review. “Impacted positions span all staffing grades, as well as organizations and locations across the company,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company planned to eliminate nearly 3% of its workforce. Chief Executive Walt Bettinger discussed the job cuts at a recent town hall with some employees, the Journal reported, citing an attendee. Charles Schwab said last week it will close its Singapore office by the end of 2019. It will focus on growing its business in Hong Kong, China, Latin America and Europe, including the United Kingdom, in addition to the US-based international service teams.

Pertamina disburses first round of oil-leak compensation worth $1.32m

State-owned energy company Pertamina, through its upstream subsidiary Pertamina Hulu Energi (PHE), disbursed Rp 18.54b (US$1.32m) in the first round of compensation to fishermen and villagers affected by an oil leak from one of PHE’s wells. The compensation was disbursed via bank transfer to 10,271 verified victims who lived in the affected Karawang regency in West Java.

Singapore, Chongqing launch dedicated data channel to boost digital connectivity

Singapore and China’s Chongqing city on Wednesday (Sep 11) launched a dedicated data channel which offers better network reliability to users from both sides. With a total data capacity of 260Gbps, the International Data Channel (IDC) will facilitate physical and digital trade as well as support data-driven businesses.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Expedia, AI Singapore project to improve online search for Asian travellers

Singapore’s efforts to grow its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are bearing fruit, with global travel giant Expedia Group the latest to announce a partnership with AI Singapore (AISG) to develop a more accurate search engine for Asian languages like Japanese. Both parties will work to develop an AI tool for Expedia’s online properties to transform the online search experience for Asian travellers. Mr Laurence Liew, Director of AI Industry Innovation at AISG, told CNA in an email that it is pumping S$180,000 into the project and will assemble an engineering team that is staffed by full-time mentors, project managers and apprentices from its AI Apprenticeship Programme. On its end, Expedia will match AISG’s funding through cash and in-kind manpower and resource contributions, said its senior director for Product and Technology Kevin Ng.

SingHealth to replace paper medical certificates with digital MCs by 2020

Paper medical certificates (MC) issued by SingHealth institutions are expected to be replaced by digital MCs by 2020, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) said. GovTech said patients will receive digital MCs under a new system called DigiMC. The system has been piloted at the Singapore General Hospital and the National Heart Centre Singapore. Product manager Chong Zi Xin said 95% of the 179 patients surveyed over a four-month period said they were satisfied with the new system. GovTech said it plans to implement digital MCs across all SingHealth institutions by early 2020. They will be issued in parallel with hard copy MCs for a few months before the latter is eventually phased out.

Apple’s new iPhones shift smartphone camera battleground to AI

SAN FRANCISCO: When Apple Inc introduced its triple-camera iPhone this week, marketing chief Phil Schiller waxed on about the device’s ability to create the perfect photograph by weaving it together with eight separate exposures captured before the main shot, a feat of “computational photography mad science”. A special portion of that chip called the “neural engine”, which is reserved for artificial intelligence tasks, aims to help the iPhone take better, sharper pictures in challenging lighting situations. Samsung and Huawei also design custom chips for their phones, and even Google has custom “Visual Core” silicon that helps with its Pixel’s photography tasks.

SG unemployment rate inches up to 3.3%

The citizen unemployment rate in Singapore rose slightly in the second quarter of this year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The jobless rate for citizens stood at 3.3% at June 2019, compared with 3.2% in March 2019. With the Ministry of Trade and Industry downgrading Singapore’s 2019 economic growth forecast to between 0 and 1%, MOM said that job opportunity will continue to be present in the sectors that had robust employment growth in the first half of 2019.

Yahoo Japan bids for control of fashion e-tailer Zozo for US$3.7b

Yahoo Japan Corp said it will take over Japan’s biggest online fashion retailer Zozo Inc for 400b yen (US$3.7b), seeking to breathe fresh life into the business and compete better against the likes of Amazon.com. The deal offers Yahoo Japan a chance to take the lead in Japan’s 1.8t yen online fashion space where Amazon and Rakuten Inc have struggled to make headway, and where Zozo’s mall Zozotown controls around 50per cent of the market for mid- to high-end fashion.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Indonesia hits back at Malaysia over forest fires

Indonesia rejected Malaysian complaints about hazardous smoke drifting from its forest fires across the border, saying blazes were also raging in parts of Malaysia and on Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia. In an escalating row over the smoke haze, a Malaysian minister said that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad would write to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo to raise concerns about cross-border haze. Malaysia closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak this week, after the smoke built up to unhealthy levels. Air quality in Indonesian towns closest to the fires have risen to hazardous levels and on Wednesday thousands held mass Islamic prayer for rain. Forest fires have become an almost annual occurence in Indonesia, especially in dry years, and Indonesia’s neighbours have complained of the thick, choking haze wafting in, raising concern about health and the impact on tourism. Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said she felt Malaysia had not painted an objective picture of the flames, which have ripped through parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands for more than a month.

Gojek provides training to start-ups in search for Indonesia’s next unicorn

Indonesia’s on-demand services app Gojek has teamed up with start-up accelerator Digitaraya to provide training to start-ups as they look for the next unicorns in the country en route to be Southeast Asia’s digital powerhouse. The program, named Gojek Xcelerate, will provide six-month training programs to 20 selected start-ups. Workshops will involve Google’s start-up acceleration program Google Developers Launchpad, American consulting firm McKinsey & Co and Swiss banking giant UBS.

Watchdoc studying Emirates’ application to stop Singapore-Brisbane flights

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is looking into an application by Emirates to stop flights between Singapore and Brisbane.This would result in a drop of nearly 5,000 seats per week for inbound and outbound flights, or about 16% of the total number of seats available on this route. CCCS said it will conduct a public consultation from Sep 13 to Sep 24, to assess the impact of Emirates’ withdrawal on passenger and air freight services between Singapore and Brisbane, as well as other Australian routes. The competition watchdog will look into how ticket prices and the availability of seats may be affected, and whether another airline might consider entering the Singapore-Brisbane route.

Stricter timelines proposed to ensure consistent, faster outcomes for complaints against doctors

The workgroup tasked to review the disciplinary process of the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), among other things, has recommended the setting up of an in-house unit to prosecute doctors suspected of errant practices instead of relying on private law firms. The proposed move is aimed at improving the consistency of outcomes, as well as based on feedback that private law firms are seen to be more aggressive and “all out to win”, said Senior Minister of State (Health and Law) Edwin Tong. Speaking at a medical conference held at the Carlton Hotel, Mr Tong gave an overview of the preliminary recommendations of the workgroup, which was convened in March to conduct a review of how the medical concept of “informed consent” is taken and the SMC’s disciplinary processes. In May, Mr Tong had provided an update on proposals being considered by the workgroup.

South Korea to temporarily waive visa application fee for Indonesians

The Republic of Korea will temporarily waive the visa application fee for Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. the program was created in conjunction with the ASEAN- Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit, an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN and Republic of Korea dialogue partnership, which is slated to run in Busan on Nov. 25-26. The program is only valid for C-3 short-term visit visas to South Korea. During the three-month period, visa applicants are not required to pay the US$40 admission fee.